3 key trends for the food sector for the year ahead:
- Origin & Food Labelling
From this year, all geographical indication products made and sold in Great Britain will be using the UK GI logo. Producers that are required to, had until 1 January 2024 to add the relevant UK GI scheme logo if their protected food product was registered before 1 January 2021. There are UK GI logos that represent the 3 designations of GI product: protected designation of origin (PDO) protected geographical indication (PGI) and traditional speciality guaranteed (TSG) Protected geographical food and drink names: UK GI schemes - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
At the start of this year, at the January 2024 Oxford Farming Conference, Steve Barclay, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), announced the UK Government's plans to go even further to support additional “clearer labelling” for British food produce.
This follows a year of ‘food summits’ and plans to help dairy, poultry and pork farmers with contractual unfairness where it exists in the agri-food supply chain.
Mr Barclay announced “too often products produced to lower welfare standards overseas aren’t clearly labelled to differentiate them. This is why I’m pleased to announce that we will rapidly consult on clearer labelling so we can tackle the unfairness created by misleading labelling and protect farmers and consumers.” Environment Secretary speech at 2024 Oxford Farming Conference - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
There is currently no industry-wide standard on either country of origin or method of production labelling in existence, but a complex network of safeguards against misleading consumers, please see Morrisons British Chicken: Will Country of Origin labelling become part of the political divide? - Mills & Reeve (mills-reeve.com)
The current general rule is that the indication of the ‘country of origin’ or ‘place of provenance’ shall be mandatory where failure to indicate this might mislead the consumer as to the true country of origin or place of provenance of the food, in particular if the information accompanying the food or the label as a whole would otherwise imply that the food has a different country of origin or place of provenance. (Regulation 1169/2011 Article 26(2)(a))
(As a caveat to this rule, there are some product specific requirements for origin labelling for products such as honey, fruit and veg, fish, beef and beef products, olive oil, fresh, chilled and frozen meat of swine, sheep, goats and poultry. There are also specific parameters for these meats ie last place of rearing of a specified time or to a specified weight. Detailed information for the UK market is available here Food labelling: country of origin - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk))
A further important caveat concerns a foods’ ‘primary ingredients’; if the place of origin of the food (according to the principle of last substantial change) is not the same as the place of origin of any of its primary ingredients, it may be necessary to provide further information on the origin of those ingredients.
It will be interesting to see how this ‘rapid’ consultation takes place in an election year and whether this may be another headache and cost for the food industry or a real boon for the home grown agri sector.
Potentially, it may be joined in some way to the burgeoning requirement for the food sector to specify ‘Not for EU’ as part of the Windsor Framework Agreement within the Stamni retail movement scheme.
- From 1 Oct 2023 there was the requirement that all meat and some individual fresh dairy products travelling from GB to NI would be labelled ‘not for EU’;
- From 1 Oct 24 this will extend to all meat and dairy products in Great Britain to be individually labelled
- From 1 July 2025 some composite products, fruit, vegetables and fish in GB to be labelled.
(Exceptions i.e. shelf stable composite, sold loose, products not requiring border checks.)
Labelling requirements for certain products moving from Great Britain to retail premises in Northern Ireland under the Northern Ireland Retail Movement Scheme - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
Certainly, it is likely to be a mishmash of requirements for food producers.
‘Greenwashing’ has been introduced into common parlance with food companies in particular being subject to scrutiny by activist groups. 10 Companies Called Out For Greenwashing | Earth.Org, Coca-Cola criticized by green group for falling behind on reusable packaging goal | Food Dive
Sustainability Reports have been used to compare targets on Environmental sustainability and governance goals. 'We’re fooled into believing that these companies are taking sufficient action': Nestlé and Unilever rebuff greenwashing accusation (foodnavigator.com)
Adverse media reports are one thing but at the end of last year an investigation by the Competition and Markets Authority CMA was announced into Unilever What CMA’s Unilever greenwashing probe means for fmcg giants | The Grocer for potentially overstating how green some of its household and personal care brands are. “Vague and broad claims, unclear statements around recyclability, and ‘natural’ looking images and logos,” were a few of the concerns raised by the CMA about certain products, and how they are marketed, in Unilever’s portfolio.
The UK’s Competition & Markets Authority (CMA) summary of 6 principles to apply to all ‘green’ claims are as follows:
- claims must be truthful and accurate
- claims must be clear and unambiguous
- claims must not omit or hide important relevant information
- comparisons must be fair and meaningful
- claims must consider the full life cycle of the product or service
- claims must be substantiated
Please see Making environmental claims on goods and services - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
The Advertising Standards Authority supports the CMA and provides similar advice and rulings on their interpretation of environmental claims Advertising Guidance - misleading environmental claims and social responsibility - ASA | CAP
The latest culprit for the ASA was yet again beleaguered Brewdog BrewDog plc - ASA | CAP 20 December, this was because there was no qualifying information in the ad which outlined the basis for Brewdog’s “carbon negative” claim, the ASA concluded that the ad was misleading. Accurate information about whether (and the degree to which) the claim was based on active reduction carbon emissions or based on offsetting should be included in ads to ensure consumers understood the basis on which carbon neutrality was achieved. The ASA considered that consumers would understand from the particular ad that Brewdog was a carbon negative brewery, meaning that, as a business, they had a net effect of removing more carbon from the atmosphere than they emitted. They considered, within that context, the text “BEER FOR YOUR GRANDCHILDREN” reinforced the carbon negative claim. This was despite the information being available on the Brewdog website. It is clear that the strength and accessibility of this information is therefore a pivotal factor.
EU Green Claims Directive
Similarly, on 22 March 2023, the European Commission put forward a proposal for a directive on green claims. The proposed directive would require companies to substantiate the voluntary green claims they make in business-to-consumer commercial practices, by complying with a number of requirements regarding their assessment (e.g. taking a life-cycle perspective) 'Green claims' directive (europa.eu).
No single method for the assessment would be stipulated. The proposal would also set requirements on how to communicate the claims and introduce rules on environmental labelling schemes. Compliance with these requirements would have to be verified and certified by a third party ('verifier'). The proposal is now in the hands of the co-legislators.
Greenhushing, the act of underreporting or concealing environmental and sustainable credentials to evade scrutiny has also reportedly been a concern of this increased restriction and may start to look the less riskier option. This would be to the genuine consumer’s deficit who would like to encourage and support genuine environmental action.
As well as claims there will also be responsibility at EU level to actively report on sustainability via two new pieces of legislation:
EU Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD)
- Timing: Application from 1 Jan 2024 for financial years beginning on or after 1 Jan 2024. The first companies will have to apply the new rules for the first time in the 2024 financial year, for reports published in 2025. EU Sustainability Reporting Standards (ESRS) to cover non-EU parent entities in 2028 due 2029.
From 1 January 2024 for full year (FY) 2024 with reports due in 2025:
Any EU-incorporated company already subject to the Non-Financial Reporting Directive (NFRD) ie sustainability reports.
From 1 January 2028 for FY 2028 with reports due in 2029:
Companies whose ultimate parent company is outside the EU but that have a significant presence in the EU must report on the whole global group, including non-EU group companies.
EU Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive (CSDDD)
The Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) sets the framework for sustainability reporting, while the Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive (CSDDD) aims to ensure responsible corporate conduct.
14 December 2023, the Council of the EU (“Council”) and the European Parliament (“Parliament”) reached a provisional political agreement on the Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive (“CSDDD”).
Although a political agreement has been reached, the text of the agreement is not publicly available and a number of details of the legal text will need to be finalized in follow-up technical meetings. The full text will likely be available in early 2024.
The Directive is set to lay down significant due diligence obligations for large companies regarding actual and potential adverse impacts on human rights and the environment, with respect to their own operations, those of their subsidiaries, and those carried out by their business partners.
UK Sustainability Disclosure Standards (SDS)
UK Sustainability Disclosure Standards (SDS) are intended to set out corporate disclosures on the sustainability-related risks and opportunities that companies face.
They will form the basis of any future requirements in UK legislation or regulation for companies to report on risks and opportunities relating to sustainability matters, including risks and opportunities arising from climate change. UK Sustainability Disclosure Standards - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
Published by the Department for Business and Trade (DBT), UK SDS will be based on the IFRS® Sustainability Disclosure Standards issued by the International Sustainability Standards Board (ISSB). The Secretary of State for Business and Trade will consider the endorsement of the IFRS Sustainability Disclosure Standards, to create UK SDS by July 2024. UK endorsed standards will only divert from the global baseline if absolutely necessary for UK specific matters.
Following endorsement, UK SDS may be referenced in any legal or regulatory requirements for UK entities. Decisions to require disclosure will be taken independently by the UK government, for UK registered companies and limited liability partnerships, and by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) for UK listed companies.
ISSB published its first 2 new standards on 26 June 2023. IFRS - IFRS Sustainability Standards Navigator These are:
- IFRS S1: General Requirements for Disclosure of Sustainability-related Financial Information
- IFRS S2: Climate-related Disclosures
- HFSS Foods
The UK ‘Obesity Strategy’ has been subject to diversion and postponement but various measures requiring calories on menus to restrictions on the placement of HFSS food in retail outlets.
- The UK Soft Drinks Industry Levy (SDIL), or 'sugar tax’, came into force April 2018.
- Calorie Labelling (Out of Home Sector) (England) Regulations 2021– providing calorie information for menus out of home April 2022
- The Food (Promotion and Placement) (England) Regulations 2021 The restriction of certain HFSS products by location came into force on 1 October 2022.
- The restriction of HFSS products by volume price has been further postponed with the cost of living crisis and is now said to come into force on 1 October 2025.
- The Health and Care Act 2022 - Restrictions on certain HFSS foods from being advertised on TV before 9pm and paid-for adverts online are now due to come into force in October 2025 (having been similarly delayed.)
The ASA’s Broadcast and Non-Broadcast Codes, BCAP and CAP , are consulting on the implementation of these advertising restrictions. The Consultation was opened last month and is due to close on 7 February 2024. 2023-12-11-LHF-consultation-document-FINAL.pdf (asa.org.uk)
In-scope advertisements for identifiable less healthy food or drink products must comply with the following rules come Oct 2025:
• BCAP Code rule 32.21 prohibits such advertisements from being included in Ofcomregulated TV channels between 5:30am and 9:00pm;
• CAP Code Appendix 2 (Advertising rules for all on-demand programme services (ODPS) regulated by statute) rule 30.16, prohibits such advertisements from being included in Ofcomregulated ODPS between 5:30am and 9:00pm; and
• CAP Code rule 15.19 prohibits paid-for advertisements for such products aimed at UK consumers from being placed in online media at any time.
The proposed guidance for consideration by respondents is included in Annex A. 2023-12-11-Annex-A-Guidance-FINAL.pdf (asa.org.uk)
It is not clear if these restrictions will have any noticeable effect on the rising obesity levels other than creating more cost and red tape for the food sector.
However, the Government did this year step back from mandatory reporting of data via the Food Data Transparency Partnership (FDTP) Food & Agri Update - 22 September - Mills & Reeve (mills-reeve.com) The exact metrics for sales data are not finalised but are likely to include the salt, sugar and fat content of products.
Nevertheless, a future second stage had been indicated that may see data communicated to the public via a new system of on-pack labelling, which will be used to either replace or supplement existing traffic light labels. It is not clear how this future proposal might dovetail with the stated ‘rapid consultation’ on new origin labelling.
Summary: It can be easy to lose track of the 'why' in the rush to demand food businesses provide more and more information. The provision of a clear structure and goals that companies may then wish to signpost their compliance to as a foundation is vital.